Saturday, August 31, 2013

Last week was the marathon

Love this t-shirt
Some of you know that last week was a half marathon that about 2 months ago I publicly broadcasted that I was going to run.  I did okay doing some training the first week.  Week 2 I was very ill with a stomach deal that lasted, to one degree or another, for the next 3 weeks.  This stomach deal, which I'm 90% sure was worms related, could not have come at a more convenient time.  I lost some of the weight I had picked up during my last visit to the US, my appetite shrunk dramatically (which I have been able to maintain), and I was thrown off my training program in the fetal stage.  One the one hand I was not going to run the half marathon, running a marathon (like fixing up a classic car or motorcycle from the ground up) is on my "Some day I oughta" list.  This list also includes falconing, living in a hobbit hole, working on a ship, and being a shepherd. I thought I would actually run a half and maybe that would not only leverage itself towards being in shape physically, it would be a huge win in a time that I could really use a huge win.

The reason I'm writing at this exact moment is I was perusing the Art of Manliness blog and read this article.  Up until the last week I have really been struggling with my place here in India, my desire to go home and camp whenever I want to, and just the promising career path that is spiraling ahead of me.  One I'm not sure I want to continue on.  I saw this cartoon last week and it resonated more loudly than it should have, which means I'm not really where I should be. There are a lot of things that have contributed to my current state of the doldrums.  I have whined about them enough on other articles.  Today I want to whine about my perceived inability to finish things I start.  I come from a family that has, in many ways, turned starting things into a fine art.  I feel like I have even further magnified this trait.  I'm a dreamer, I get exited about something new on a weekly or daily basis.  I will obsess about planning something up until 5 minutes into the practical application step and then fizzle out.  The marathon, my camping supply company, my motorcycle/cafe shoppe, making bedrolls for the upcoming camping trip, my writing, my music: these are simply the current projects in this nebulous state.  The historical list is stunningly long.  When talking about writing with a friend a few weeks ago she asked if I was afraid of success.  I have no idea what that means.

I have always been afraid of good old fashion failure and it has been my MO in the past to attempt to flee when the opportunity for failure presents itself.  The stronger my hope of success the more quickly and distant I run from the possibility of calamity.  Somehow I scored a super hot wife and wonderful children during the past 10 years, of which I am supremely grateful, but my fear of failure and my flee survival instinct are still very strong when it comes to personal achievements.  Let me spell out a more humiliating example.  I always enjoyed the idea of math.  I was bored by math because it came easily for me, but I really wanted to learn the crazy complex stuff.  Then came 7th grade.  I had a C in math because I never did my homework.  I still tested well but I felt then, and still do to some degree, that homework is for the people that don't understand the concept yet.  So along came our algebra readiness test.  I scored either 2nd highest in my Team (which was a subdivision of teachers for a block of students) or 2nd highest in the school, I don't recall which.  My math teacher, however, would not allow me to move onto algebra because I had a C.  Of course I was afraid of almost everything so I didn't say anything to her but my imaginary conversation went something along the lines of, "Of course I have a C.  Your course is boring, the homework ridiculous, and I don't need to do it."  Being that it was 7th grade there was more colorful language and several profound observations about her ability to teach as well as completely assumed facts about her age and personal life, but that is not necessary for the narrative.  Here I was a science and math junky, planning on going to medical school, and I wrote off mathematics and just assumed I was a history/literature guy.

For the rest of my academic career I was a year behind in math in relation to almost all of my friends. I never worked on math homework outside of class time again, and skated by with C's until I was no longer required to take math.  This prevented me from taking advanced biology, AP physics, Calculus, and all sorts of other classes I would have really enjoyed, because I wasn't a math guy.  Maybe this doesn't resonate with anyone out there but I threw away hours of learning something I would have really enjoyed because one woman made a decision that I was unwilling to contest.  I felt like something was stolen from me and I never fought to get it back.  I don't know what has haunted me the most over the years: the fact that I was academically and personally lazy all those years and I could have achieved so much more (and could continue to achieve much more) if I only changed that; or the fact that it was another addition to the long list of things I wish I had fought for but didn't.  A lot of the things I gave up on probably were for the best.  Had I bounced back with enthusiasm from my knee injury in high school I may have been an even more arrogant bastard than I was already.  Had I actually learned math and aced my SATs I probably would have lived a completely different life than I do now.  Had I not been so afraid of girls and actually dated in High School I may have never ended up with my beautiful wife of almost 10 years, which would not have in any way been worth the ego boost at the time.  But all of these defeats I have allowed to define who I am.

In the AOM article referenced above it talks about people with external and internal locus of control.  I think in a lot of departments of my life I have that internal locus.  I have been driven and successful in the workplace and I have done and seen good things happen in my life.  One of my major weaknesses, however, is that when something becomes important to me I don't complete it.  Not because I lack the ability or personal gumption to see it through (which is usually my excuse de'jour).  Often I do not complete what I put my hands to because I become so emotionally tied to its success that it is easier to walk away and imagine the what ifs than to stay the course and risk the possibility of failure.

I had put the marathon to the back of my mind up until last week and I began to hear about my various friends who had participated in and completed the race.  My usual response is self-abasing sarcasm which unfortunately has been disarmed from me in my current cultural context.  So what does a man do when he is faced with his failure to stick with it, cowboy up, and do something big and yet can't make fun of himself and make a public spectacle of his failure?  I don't know.  All week I haven't known.

In about a month a group of us are going to ride our motorcycles and go on a 1 night camping trip.  Some of us have camped a lot, some not at all, and the weight of everyone's enjoyment and happiness had weighed heavily on my shoulders.  A lot of us need this trip.  Several of us use the outdoors to re-center ourselves and we have been stripped of that by our particular geographical position.  Many of us are here professionally and have very little quality social interaction with other men.  And like I said before, I need a win.  Tents are ridiculously expensive here and as a few of the guys strike me as at least aspiring to be rough-and-tumble, I'm going to try and design and manufacture (or have manufactured) sleeping rolls for the trip.  I need something masculine liked sleeping under the stars in waxed canvas next to a smoldering fire after days of sitting in a cubicle unable to even do the work that I am required to do.  I have spent some significant time obsession over the fine details of the project and now that I am on the verge to proceed with the creation of them, to manifest the dream; every fiber of my being is screaming to just give up and get some blue tarps for the guys.

I have had too many urges to quit the last few months.  I have really struggled to get back in the grove here in Asia after my US trip.  I haven't wanted to write, and what I have written has reinforced my perceptions.  After the Stephen Pottersworth Part II post's dismal reception I almost just shut the blog down, or at least wrote it off as something I'd get back to later.  For better or for worse failure is not currently an option.  I just can't take it emotionally or psychologically.  I'm tired of just calling myself a dreamer because I'm too afraid to risk people hating what I make.  I am writing this blog because I am going to at least attempt to continue even though I don't want to.  And maybe next week I'll even go for a run.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Spaceeba Bolshoei

Noticed that I get more page views from Russia than the US.  So a big thanks to all of moy malchiki i moya dyavutchka ruski.  I hope you can read it because we all know I suck at posting pictures.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Remarkable Life of Stephen Pottersworth Pt. II

If you are anything like me you have always wanted to be in a secret society but are still looking for a decent secret.

Hogmany Spigglesmith, Something Spectacular in a Dusk of Mediocrity: The Life of Hogmany Spigglesmith

No matter how many action movies one has seen it never really prepares oneself for the actual act of being shot.  It is unfortunately unromantic, horribly painful, and downright debilitating.  I myself was once hit in the ear by a maliciously loosed BB in retaliation for filling a shrub with low velocity metal shot which I assumed housed a loose rabbit but which, in fact, was concealing my bosom friend, Horatio.  Penny Pelatozi, in contrast, had just been bowled over by a concussion to the left shoulder caused by a .45 caliber slug fired in an even more malicious manner than Horatio's lone BB.  Where I thought I had lost an appendage useful for the assisting of gathering sound waves; Penny Pelatozi had a piece of lead similar in size to her namesake tearing through muscle and smashing bone in such a violent manner that she feared for losing a much more utilitarian appendage and possibly her very life.  It was a valid concern, particularly considering the next slug that bisected the two hemispheres of her frantically active brain and did that very thing.

I think most people into 2 categories and said category can be analyzed with the first thought that enters one's mind when one hears the word, “laboratory”.   The first category of individual is one who hears the word laboratory and thinks of the modern pharmaceutical machine and its attached images of super clean labs made of shiny glass and calming creame colored polymers.  A laboratory is a place where the future is paved with pipettes, latex gloves, and lab coats.  This type of individual usually pronounces the word /LAB-re-tory/ in a way that is reminiscent of a loyal and friendly Labrador.  If you are in this brainwashed and comforted populated I applaud the comfort that you can maintain in this na├»ve fantasy.  

The second group of people pronounces the word /la-BOR-a-tory/.  The mental image may be heavily influenced by the Victorians and the associated early scientists of that era: bubbling colanders, brass piping, and specimen jars.  The image may instead by the 1950s sea-green tile workshop with slightly dirty grout and a table laid out with complex and frightening stainless steel tools, and of course specimen jars.  If this is what enters your mind when you read the word “laboratory” then you know what goes on there, and you would be correct.

A blaze, a cough, a gasp.  In the moment that nothing can exist all exists.  The light crept out into his eyes and his soul.  A spectre of validation and loss tied up in a moment of scream inducing pain.  Everything and nothing, someone and no one.  A shadow falling across his face, a feeling of empty apathy mixed with abject horror.  The pain and the serenity mix into a cloud of confused methodology.  The cold feel of something metallic, chemical burn, thermal burn.  Run, get free, escape.  Peace, be still, relax.  My consciousness slipping into horrifying serenity, you must hold, you must stay here.  I am here, this is real.  They cannot make me lose my grasp.  Forget.  Peace.  Calm.  When I was 8 years old I was lost at Funland.  The fear and the panic made my heart race just like it is now, but then she was there.  We sat in the wildflowers, she held me close and ran her hands through my hair.  I’m safe now, so relaxed. Flash of bright lighting like burning magnesium sinking to the bottom of a fetid pool.  This pain is real, this fear is real.  There are no constraints but I am trapped.  Why is it is hard to breath?  Every pulse racing through my mind beating like a drum stretched from my own skin, beaten as I watch.  I remember them pealing the skin back like Thanksgiving turkey.  I remember.  The cool sand under my toes.  The cool breeze against my sunburned face.  The smell of salt, the smell of her.  I feel her hair tickling my nose but I don’t want to let her loose.  The moonlight is our companion now, the waves and the sand.  I know her from no where and yet she is my constant companion.  She reaches out to me, she touches my face.  Burning bright light and the too coolooth to, to smuch on my cheek.  A shadow moves.  How can shadows exist in this cosmic brightness?  Murmurs of voices on the edge of my hearing, murmurs of memories on the edge of my mind.  What is, what was, nothing seems to stand fixed in my washing sea of emotions and thoughts.  I remember that once memories stood as monolithic in my mind, strong cornerstones of thought but they mix and mingle now like cream and coffee.  Soon they will all be one and I will be nothing.  Cold nothing, safe nothing, to be free of the prodding and touching.  No touch could ever feel clean again, no contact could ever feel right.   Blessed I have been blessed.  I have seen the light.  Light in the darkness that cleanses frees us from what was once us.  Cursed we were and blessed we now stand.  I feel like vomit and bile are squeezing between the creases of my brain.  Putrid, oily filth that separates and congeals.  Toxic phantoms cross my consciousness as I loose hope, as I loose what is real.  What is right.  His eyes were fastened open against the blinding light.  Frantically searching back and forth for a peace.  His mouth dry around the frame that held it open for the inserted forms that were forced down gagging and coughing with no release, no way to reject what was being forced upon him.  His mind gave one final shudder and his eyes rolled back into the same darkness where his thoughts hid.

Nothing like it.  Sitting in the sun on a picnic bench, drinking a fine artisan brew; smelling the steaks, flowers, and sunscreen; hearing the voice of so many little ones keeping cadence with their bare feet on the concrete as they giggle through the dense crowd of parents, aunts, uncles, and friends.  The redglow coming through my eyelids: warming the eyes, warming the soul.  It was hard to imagine any troubles or difficulties on a day like this.
“Penny, want another beer?”  
“No thanks Jon, still milking this one.”
“Alright, but if you don’t pick up the pace all that’s going to be left is Bush Lite and other variations of drinkable piss.”
“Always the gentleman Jon.”
“See?  Haven’t changed much.”
And there it was.  It always came back to the Society.  He might joke and kid but Jon was not who he was when he joined that damned fraternity and the change in dad has taken place even faster. Such a nice day, now I'm pissed.  We can’t just have a nice day not talking about the secrets, the lies, the altering of our family.  Just for once I was hoping to sit here and pretend that everything was the way it used to be.  That everything had not changed.  That my brother was still and good man, and my father was someone I wanted to be like when I grew up, hell, someone I wanted to marry.  But like that cloud moving towards the setting sun that illusion is hidden from view.  

As a physician one of my favorite activities is to ask the patient where on the pain spectrum he or she is.  Whenever I receive in response a 9 or 10 I inwardly chuckle to myself.  Of course in the interest of clinical courtesy one may not outwardly laugh at or mock the troubled invalid, though the mind does go where it will.  The pain level of 7 and above is considered excruciating pain and one cannot perform the activities associated with daily living and yet here the patient is, sitting on my examination table, talking to me about how much pain he or she is in and they have no chaperon that could have escorted him or her to this emergency appointment.  Obviously navigating traffic should be considered one of the more complex activities of daily living and hence it is impossible, or at least highly improbably, that they are in fact suffering from stage 9 pain when they have transported themselves to the clinic personally.  If they were in level 9 pain and had operated a heavy machine or other implement of technological transport than they had selfishly endangered the general populace with their actions.  If they are indeed not in level 9 pain than they have taken me for an illiterate fool, a pop culture psychiatrist who will be sympathetic towards their scientifically unfounded claims.  In either case the temptation exists to punish them for their social negligence or to instruct them of the meaning of level 9 pain.  A gouged eye-ball or extroverted internal organs go a long way to instruct and correct the foolish actions or claims of these supercilious patients, so called if only because they try mine so.  Of course in accordance with the Hippocratic oath I would never carry out such an activity so frowned upon by general society.  Of course I would be doing that very same society a great favor but it could be argued that I had, in executing this judgement, committed an act that did harm to an individual, however he or she may have deserved it.  However, in faith to my oath I would never do such a thing to anyone who had come to my clinic voluntarily.

During the days of paranoia that accompanied the Cold War Era the American psyche looked outwardly to see a terrifying world of evil doers and vicitimizers.  Fresh on the collective memory was the horrors of authoritarianism and genocide.  The all too present danger of the Socialist Soviet Republic hung a pall across the major cities of the united states.  An invading land force, nuclear holocaust, and abduction by foreign agents posing as your friends and neighbors haunted the mind and poisoned the population’s interactions.  Whether it was the communists, the Nazis, or Imperial Japan the fear of being attacked seemed to manifest itself in a focus on Extra-Terrestrials and their visits to our planet.  Conspiracies sprang forth from the suspicious mind of a populace that was taught to find secret agents and spies in every pantry corner.  A population had seen first hand the government’s failings in Korea, Vietnam, and the Bay of Pigs and the suspicious that had been sown in their mind turned towards their own overbearing protectors.  A government that was so shrouded in mystery could be capable of hiding anything, even attacks against our own citizens from other-worldly sources.

With the new millennium cam new fears.  Like the start of the 20th century humanity has advanced and we are ushering in a new age.  The totalitarian governments of the past have crumbled and with technology and a change in cultural morality we are stepping into a new, unadulterated future.  But just as surely as 1913 became 1914 there is a tangible tension in 2013, waiting to hear the report of Gavrilo Princip’s pistol round that will awaken us from the illusion that we have knowingly painted as a mask for reality.  We have had long enough to realize that the 3rd Reich was made up of Nazis and many of those Nazis were uncomfortably similar to you and I.  Many of the creature comforts enjoyed by the masses are fueling a planet-wide demise that that seems to lear ever more menacingly from the mountain of empty gas cans and disposable cutlery.  The Alien has been replaced by the Zombie.  In an age of limited personal accountability to their own personal health as well as the health of the planet the threat is recognizable as being dangerously internal.  A culture that is very quick to see the impending collapse but unwilling to publicly own any of that blame.  The cultural subconscious, however, knows and fears that it is itself responsible.

No longer is the culture afraid of being victimized by an outside source, kidnapped and suffering Mengele scientific experimentation by small gray men who can easily be recognized as “Thems.” The Fear now is that the individual will be victimized and changed outside of one’s control.  One no longer must fear from they psychological damage of the crisis but more a psychic excommunication where one’s body is no longer associated with one’s mind.  When crisis strikes will the victim descend into predatory herd behavior casting off the bindings of modern, technological sensibilities?  The lingering spectre of primal, aggressive humanity that is so opposed to our cultured still haunts or histories and threatens to return to our future.  When crisis strikes will the individual stand and save the community?  Will the individual be the hero of the story?  what is the consequence of a herd of Nietzhsche’s Superman?  Will Kal-El rise up and battle back the horde that has rejected social convention?  Will someone save the culture in the face of individuals rejecting it?  What aspects of the culture are worth saving?  Finally will those of us uninfected turn on each other to survive?  Is it the virus that turns the human into an animal or the animal in the human?

Alien abduction fear casts an interesting double-sided doubt on the victim.  Was I special in some way that attracted the attention of the unworldly hosts or was I so workaday that the unseen observers knew I would not be missed if their experimentation went awry.  Xenophobia manifests one’s self worth as the source of the crisis.  Kinemortophobia analyzes one’s self image as what is distilled from the individual as a result of the crisis.  In an Internet age where everyone may pose as anyone, very few westerners have any idea about who and what they really are.  We subconsciously are craving to be given an opportunity for definition, even at the cost of humanity as a whole.  Will you be the sheep or the shepherd?  Or will you be victimized by an unconquerable force and become the wolf?

Of course “Case Z” has not and will most likely never happen.  Zombiesm is merely a metaphor for the current age, just as Dracula and witches were the metaphors for the cultural fears of the Victorian and Medieval eras.  This cultural shift of fear, however, does not in anyway argue the impossibility of you being a victim of extra-terrestrial abduction activities.  It merely encourages a cultural atmosphere where no one will believe you if you are.